Institutional Location

Debates over the Party’s decision on rural development reflect contending perspectives on local conditions. Opponents of expanding land use transfer rights have pointed to the iconic role of land as a foundation for social insurance, questioning whether the purported economic efficiencies to be gained from expanded transfer rights will still protect social needs in rural areas.133 The reforms are expected to increase migration of surplus agricultural labor to the cities (potentially reaching 700 million by 2020), raising concerns of urbanites over local capacity and social conditions.134 Still other opponents have expressed doubts that a liberalized land use transfer system will benefit peasants in areas where land quality is poor and access to markets and transportation is limited.135 Proponents of expanding land use transfer rights have tended to adhere to conventional economic theories extolling the virtues of capital liquidity and mobilization.136 While such an approach resonates with the experience and training of development and planning officials in Beijing and various provincial capitals, it remains uncertain as to whether it suits the realities of local conditions. Indeed, critiques of the proposal have urged greater attention be paid to local conditions.137 Demographics also appear to play a role, as older villagers apparently tend to prize landholdings as social security, while younger people seem more eager to leave the land to move to the cities.138

Coordination with local conditions is an essential component of institutional capacity. While some attention is paid to the need to facilitate economic growth for the decentralized communities of rural areas, development goals of private property rights are often constructed in terms that conflict with local social arrangements. Basic policy goals underlying rural land reform seem to privilege perspectives on economic organization and behavior more reminiscent of urban rather than rural realities. Indeed the current world food crisis suggests that conventional economic perspectives on efficiency and comparative advantage may lead to market distortions and unsustainable burdens for rural residents.139 Resulting dislocation and migration of the peasantry to urban areas may well be a “natural” consequence of economic imperatives about efficiency but may also contribute to breakdown of social relations in both the countryside and the cities. Neoliberal economic approaches centered on accumulation, institutionalization, and urbanization, with little attention to preserving local cultures and traditions, pose challenges for implementation of the new Property Rights Law and, in the long term, challenge traditional patterns of rural life.

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